Plotting a musically minimal, atavistic, road trip along the byways and highways that helped shape a past empire, James Brooks’ psychogeographic journeys in sound flow like meditative streams of reflection and meanderings. Under the moniker of Land Observation, Brooks’ home-recorded soundscapes suggest movement, albeit of a sedate and calm nature.
Following on from his three-track teaser EP, this debut solo album continues to track the same ambient textured signposts favored by Brian Eno & Robert Fripp on their No Pussyfooting collaboration, and the embracing diaphanous resonant tones of the Durutti Column. A self-imposed experimental limitation see’s Brooks depending upon his solitary electric six-string guitar, a valve amp, some plug-ins and an accompaniment of various effects pedals for comfort. Those laconic, placable guitar lines and riffs are layered and looped to create congruous instrumental narratives on the central theme of Roman traffic planning! Of course there’s more to it than that, the Roman’s network of roads capture a certain spirit of progression, and in some shape or form these original connections of commerce, trade and control are still in use today.
Heading off on this pastoral motorik tour, Brooks literally begins by stepping out of his front door in Old Street to travel down the Kingsland Road (Before The Kingsland Road). In quintessential English style, the trek is often idyllic and gentle, with the backing neither rushing on ahead nor resting but chiming away methodically. Stop offs are made at The Chester Road – a permeated echoing Edge-esque refrain drifts in and out of pondering reverberations -, Portway – what used to be the Silchester to Sailsbury highway, represented now by harp-like placid harmonics – and the Anglo Saxon named Watling Street – a vague location for the final bloody clash in AD 60 – 61 between the indigenous British led by Boudica, and Gaius Suetonius Paulinus’ commanded Romans; a decisive battle that pretty much ended all resistance to foreign invaders occupation of our shores.
Excursions are also made to the Roman heartland; Brooks sampling the sea air as he breezes down the ancient, southwest coastal Aurelian Way, on a guiro-esque ratcheting and scarping bed of Ash Ra Temple and effete Neu! Imbued sonic lay lines. There’s a brief rest at Nero’s Palace (the debauched ruler’s original not Vegas version) before we’re cruising on a tremolo-flexing course down the Via Flaminia to Rimini and picking-up speed as we grind and rock along the Appian Way towards Brindisi.
Roman Roads IV – XI (I – III can be found on the preface EP, Roman Roads) is a thoughtful exercise in restraint, keeping as it does to the bare fundamentals of Brooks minimal production and crafting; though less Kosmiche traveller on the Autobahn, and more thumbing a lift aboard a gilded chariot.